Thursday, June 3, 2010

Boy Scouts started in America here

I've been calling the period from about 1869 to 1927 the "Golden Era" of Kerr County's history. The dates, I'll admit, are pretty arbitrary. But the idea is this: during this time so many of our local institutions had their start.
For instance, quite possibly the first Boy Scout troop in America.
Consider these intriguing lines from the Kerr County Album, from a brief history of Kerrville's St. Peter's Episcopal Church:
"In 1908, the Reverend J. E. Ellis came to Kerrville. St. Peter's became a parish although it was not self-supporting. The parish room was built, and in 1910, Mr. Ellis organized the first Boy Scout troop in America."
No other mention in the "Album." That's it. Just enough to kindle the imagination of the reader.
I happened to remember a book my father printed for Merrill Doyle in 1975, an autobiography entitled "Reminiscences of My Youth, and Other Catastrophes." The slim volume has been out of print for many years, but a rare copy occasionally becomes available at Wolfmueller's Books on Earl Garrett Street.
I remember Merrill Doyle as an artist. Indeed, he's the one who painted the mural which graces the second story of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, the one depicting the history of our community. I even had the honor of being one of his art students when I was very young.
But I also remembered Doyle was one of the members of that early Boy Scout troop. On a hunch, I looked in the book and found a chapter called "The Boy Scouts Come to Kerrville."
"At about this time our family was living in a rented house back of the Episcopal Church," Doyle writes. "The location of the house brought me in contact with the first Boy Scout troop which was organized in Kerrville at this church. The Rector, a daring man named Ellis had been sent to our fair city from England no doubt as a penance of some sort. The Scouts had been first set up in London in 1907, and he, liking the program, had come to us fully equipped with all available literature."
You might recognize the names of some of the earliest members of the troop: "Howard and Eugene Butt, Doyle Grinstead, Milton Pampell, Jules and Alois Remschel, Frith Everts, and others who I have long since forgotten but I am sure we had a troop long before 1910 when scouting officially came to America."
Howard Butt lent his initials (plus a middle "E" which he possibly supplied himself) to a grocery store chain; Doyle Grinstead's father J. E. Grinstead bought a local newspaper and changed its name to the "Kerrville Mountain Sun," Milton Pampell's father started Pampell's, and the Remschels have a street named after them.
I also enjoyed reading about the troop's early campouts.
"We had a place where we would go for overnight hikes. The site was on Goat Creek just above what is now Camp Arcadia. No mention was ever made of our having permission to camp there but we had established squatters rights and no doubt the landowner was terrified at the thought of retribution if he chose to oust us so we used the site for years. About once a month we would assemble with crude packs and bedrolls at the scout headquarters and proceed to wipe out the intervening few miles by simply placing one foot in front of the other. This was the only transportation we had and it never let us down."
Doyle relates that the troop seldom slept during these overnight adventures, preferring to spend the evening talking and horsing around. "I don't recall what we did during those wakeful nights," he writes, "but it must have been important for the moment because we did it with gusto until about 4 a.m. when we would pull our blankets over us against the chill of the dawn and slip off into a dreamless stupor."
The entire troop remained at the rank of Tenderfoot until one of the scouts discovered the higher levels possible. Several of the scouts, including Doyle, began to work in earnest for the higher ranks, but the paperwork was never sent in. Later in life, when Doyle was an adult, working as a volunteer with Scouting in San Antonio, he turned in his old records and became Kerr County's first Eagle Scout, 40 years after being a member of the original troop.
Boy Scout Troop 1 still exists, and is sponsored by the First Christian Church here in Kerrville.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was once a Boy Scout himself.

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